By George Bate and Josh Reilly
It’s been 22 years since the original The Matrix hit theaters and took the world by storm. From the infamous bullet time sequences to the lofty philosophical themes at play, the film was game-changing and revolutionary to say the least. But, what does a Matrix film look like in 2021? Rampant use of social media, an age of misinformation, a pandemic of an infectious disease – The Matrix has always been cutting-edge in regards to its approach to social commentary in the context of sci-fi action, but is this still the case? With The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth installment in the franchise, Lana Wachowski returns to craft a film that has the potential to be as groundbreaking as the original was in 1999. Indeed, The Matrix Resurrections proves to be an excellent, almost paradoxical, exercise in nostalgia and revision that plummets the world of The Matrix into the year 2021 with disturbing relevance, gorgeous visuals, and, of course, lots of Kung Fu.
The Matrix Resurrections follows Thomas Anderson (played once again the brilliant Keanu Reeves), who, once again, begins to doubt the reality of his ‘reality’ and is left to make a choice between insight and blissful unawareness. On the surface, that sounds an awful lot like the original film in the franchise and, in many ways, it is. But, don’t be mistaken, The Matrix Resurrections is (for the most part) an entirely different animal altogether. This is abundantly clear within the first moments of seeing Reeves’ returning character. And it’s with these first moments that comprise the film’s first act that The Matrix Resurrections really excels. Wachowski approaches the story in a unique and unexpectedly meta-aware way. The events of the original Matrix trilogy are acknowledged and respected, but are incorporated into the fourth film’s narrative in a fascinating way that will get you thinking, keep you on your toes, and stay with you after the film ends. It’s with The Matrix Resurrections’ first act that Wachowski’s film feels the most refreshing and relevant. The dialogue, infused with subtle humor and social commentary, is razor sharp. It’s a bold way to reintroduce viewers to The Matrix after 18 years, and could easily go awry with such evident self-awareness, but Wachowski deftly handles the complexities of the film and truly pulls it off.
The momentum of The Matrix Resurrections’ first act is somewhat lost in an exposition-heavy and somewhat meandering second act. Yes, every frame is carefully crafted and every line of dialogue is meticulously written. But, in contrast to the first act, The Matrix Resurrections feels more like a retread of familiar territory. That being said, Wachowski manages to find a way to make the stakes even higher in this fourth installment, without ever underwhelming our heroes’ accomplishments in The Matrix Revolutions, a difficult feat considering the nature of that film’s conclusion. And it’s with the film’s third act that The Matrix Resurrections picks up again and concludes in an epic, satisfying fashion.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss lead the film with the company of an array of new faces to the franchise. Most prominent are Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who crash onto the screen from the get-go in characteristically badass fashion, but whose roles decline in importance and screen time as the film progresses. This is particularly evident for Abdul-Mateen II, who breathes exciting new life into the Morpheus character, while evoking Laurence Fishburne’s iconic performances from the original trilogy. This new iteration of Morpheus plays a prominent role in the film’s first half, but his involvement slowly declines to a point where it’s easy to forget about the character altogether. This is a shame, because Abdul-Mateen II is incredible in the film, as he has been in projects ranging from Watchmen to Candyman in recent years. The same can be said for Jessica Henwick, who is criminally underrated and underappreciated, something that is glaringly clear after watching The Matrix Resurrections. From her performance to her outfit to the action she partakes in, Henwick is the definition of badass in this film. But, like Abdul-Mateen II, it’s a shame her role seems to decline in the film’s latter half. Other new additions to the cast are similarly excellent. Jonathan Groff brings a new level of menace and charm to Smith, taking over the role helmed by Hugo Weaving in previous films. Neil Patrick Harris plays The Analyst, Thomas’ therapist who tries to maintain his patient’s sanity (or ignorance).
But, it wouldn’t be The Matrix without Reeves and Moss. Reeves is, as expected, calm, cool, collected, and deeply relatable. Reeves’ real life personality as a genuinely good person continues to seep into his performances and he makes Neo / Thomas extraordinarily easy to empathize with. Reeves is complemented by Moss, who returns to the franchise as Tiffany, unaware of the reality (or fiction) of her life as Trinity. Reeves and Moss have touching chemistry and it’s with their characters’ relationship that the film feels the most emotionally anchored. As much as The Matrix Resurrections is a high octane sci-film, it’s also a touching romance of two people going to incredible lengths to reunite.
After 18 years, The Matrix Resurrections is a return to form for the iconic sci-fi franchise. Lana Wachowski directs and co-writes an intricate, unexpectedly self-aware film that delivers the action and thrills we want from a Matrix film in the context of a deft and intelligent philosophical exploration of themes like choice vs. control, Messianism, and love. With returning and new cast members firing on all cylinders, The Matrix Resurrections particularly triumphs in a refreshing first act and, despite losing momentum in a slower and exposition-heavy second act, concludes in epic and satisfying fashion. The Matrix Resurrections proves to be another win for Wachowski and a very welcomed return to The Matrix.
Images courtesy of Warner Bros.